The IT behind hospitals' battle with COVID-19: How tech maximized efficiency amid rapid workflow changes

The coronavirus pandemic has disrupted the already complex healthcare delivery system, requiring IT teams to focus on bolstering their hospital's response.

In the early days of the pandemic, IT leaders worked to rapidly scale telehealth capabilities, managing staffing and workflow changes, and transitioning a high volume of employees to remote work. The most effective IT leaders have been flexible and enacted swift change during the pandemic, but they are also still responsible for protecting patient records and staff communication.

On April 30, Imprivata hosted a webinar titled "COVID-19: Using technology to mitigate risk and manage response." During the webinar, Imprivata Chief Medical Officer Scott Kelly, MD, and Chief Technology Officer Wes Wright discussed how the pandemic accelerated digital transformation and telehealth at many institutions.

"There are a lot of incredible use cases coming out of the COVID-19 crisis, and in the ED we never like to waste a good crisis," said Dr. Kelly, who maintains his emergency medicine practice at Boston-based Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center. "As we find a new normal, how much of healthcare delivery will be digital? My personal feeling is that a lot more of it will be."

Supporting caregivers
In the hard-hit states like California and New York, hospitals needed to onboard new clinical and support staff quickly, giving them access to medical records and secure communication platforms. Imprivata created a tool to help hospitals rapidly onboard new clinicians with a "break the glass" feature for managers to bypass the traditional bureaucracy and approve permissions at the local level without losing the audit trail.

Clinicians also took on new roles at their hospitals to address the most pressing needs of their patients. Imprivata streamlined that process by provisioning application access to accommodate staffing surges and changing roles. "When you are bringing on staff quickly, you don't have time for serial approvals," said Mr. Wright. "One of our clients wanted to bypass that for processing clinicians that were helping with surge patients and then keep it in place for others. We were able to do that."

Meanwhile, on the front lines, physicians and nurses treating patients with the coronavirus exposed themselves to the virus, and some contracted it. Hospitals found Imprivata's OneSign log could trace how the virus spread through the organization and find which devices were used by employees that tested positive. After clinicians and staff tested positive, hospitals sent them home to monitor their symptoms and self-isolate until it was safe to return to work; those individuals used the OneSign program to report mandatory temperature checks from home.

Mobile devices
As the pandemic hit its peak, patients needed mobile devices to connect with their caregivers and families while in isolation. Many hospitals accepted donated iPads and smartphones that needed to be prepared for hospital use. Imprivata's GroundControl digitally sanitizes new devices and can set up the devices for their next user.

"Hospitals began clamping down on visitation policies to keep patients isolated from everyone else. This is pretty awful when a lot of people at the hospital are in critical situations," said Dr. Kelly. "Hospitals received donated devices and wanted to get them into the hands of patients as quickly as possible. We helped secure those devices and wipe them to make sure they were ready to go. There were situations where fathers weren't allowed to see their babies in the NICU but they could go on a high definition video chat. Others are having end-of-life conversations, or better conversations, with family via video chat. These have been incredible use cases and are gaining traction."

Clinicians also needed a better way to log into their tablets and mobile devices while limiting disease spread. Manually logging in can be a challenge while wearing gloves, so Imprivata developed a process for clinicians to sign into devices using their badges.

Remote work
Hospitals across the U.S. have transitioned hundreds of team members to remote work during the pandemic, and those individuals need network access and digital communication tools. Imprivata mobilized to support many health system clients, including Virtua Health, which needed to securely transition around 400 users to Skype in less than an hour. "We knew our customers, from a licensing perspective, weren't prepared for [everyone working remotely]," said Mr. Wright. "We sent free licenses to take customers through the COVID-19 pandemic. We really think that has helped with the COVID battle."

The company's OneSign single sign-on password became essential for employees that had saved their passwords at work and needed to reset them from home.

"I really didn't want folks to be able to reset their passwords from home before the pandemic because it opens up the possibility that a bad actor would try changing passwords," said Mr. Wright. "But because of COVID and the amount of people that needed to work remotely, we created a passwordless environment using a reverse proxy so folks could reset their passwords from a remote location."


The IT teams faced many challenges at the outset of the COVID-19 pandemic, but with the right partners listening to their needs and responding quickly, health systems have been able to successfully treat patients and support remote work for the past month. Many are poised to continue strengthening these capabilities in the future.



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